- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2006

While much is made about the Washington Wizards’ defensive struggles, the good news is that they don’t have to stop themselves. Because at the moment, that’s the toughest assignment in the league.

The Wizards lead the NBA in scoring, boasting a league-leading 110.8 points a game. And at home, where they are 3-0, the Wizards average an even more impressive 119 points.

“We’re playing really well offensively,” reserve guard Antonio Daniels said. “It’s really hard to stop what we do because we have so many options and counters in the Princeton offense. The thing about it is we’re always playing really well offensively. That’s not our Achilles’ heel. That’s at the defensive end and rebounding. That’s what we need to focus on to win.”

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan remains confident the defense will continue to improve and eventually, opponents’ shooting percentages will begin to fall.

In the meantime, the Wizards are relying on their daunting offensive weapons to cause plenty of concerns for opponents.

Gilbert Arenas has averaged 37.7 points in the team’s three home games. In their most recent win over Milwaukee, the Wizards had 40 fourth-quarter points.

In a win over the Pacers, the Wizards built a 36-point lead in the third quarter while shooting 13-for-17 from the field. At the same time, the Wizards held the Pacers to just 38.6 percent shooting from the floor.

Friday’s 116-111 victory over the Bucks was another example of how the team’s offense can take over a game.

The Bucks appeared poised to end the Wizards’ home winning streak at two games. In the second quarter, the Bucks used a junk zone to reduce what had been a 16-point Washington lead midway through the second quarter to an 85-76 Milwaukee advantage.

“We didn’t get rattled at all,” small forward Caron Butler said. “We know that we can get back into a game if the score isn’t out of control and that was the case against Milwaukee. We’ve got to get better defensively but it’s good to know that the offense is running the way it’s supposed to.”

Obviously, getting some kind of handle on the Wizards’ offense begins with trying to shut down Arenas, who entering tonight’s game has scored at least 40 points twice, while no other player in the league had reached that plateau once.

Jordan is happiest when Arenas sets the offensive tone with his speed dribble upcourt, with the team’s two other best scorers — Butler and Antawn Jamison — on the other side. This immediately puts the pressure on opponents, forcing them to decide between running a double team at Arenas and marking Butler and Jamison.

If teams do run the double team at Arenas, he can do more than score. Twice this season he has had 11 assists in a game. In addition to ranking third in the league in scoring (28.8 points a game), Arenas is eighth in the league in assists with 7.6 a game.

Jamison and Butler are difficult matchups because of their versatility. Jamison is a power forward who can hit the 3-pointer, and Butler can go to the basket with his left or his right hand, and his quickness poses problems.

“It’s tough for teams,” Jordan said. “You can’t turn the ball over and you need to probably slow the game down a little bit.”

Tonight’s opponent, New Jersey, is familiar with Jordan’s offense schemes. Jordan was an assistant there for four seasons before the Wizards hired him as head coach.

However, the Nets will be without the services of starting forward Richard Jefferson, who suffered an ankle injury Friday in a loss to Miami.

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